Isabella still remembers how one moment changed her view on life. When she was a 7th grader at Lakeshore Middle School, an 11th grader from neighboring Homestead High School told her class about a new leadership program that teaches kids about peer pressure, communication skills, and living drug-free.

Isabella was captivated.

“I remember the presentation dealt a lot with decision making,” said Isabella. “I just fell in love with the idea of what they were doing in the community. It was obvious being a part of this group meant filling every corner of my small classroom with positivity and that was something I wanted to be a part of immediately.”

The United Way-funded Champions Mentor Program at Starting Point of Ozaukee supports hundreds of high school students from the Mequon-Thiensville, Grafton and Ozaukee School Districts. The students are trained to serve as local ambassadors and give presentations to elementary and middle school students in Ozaukee County about the importance of being drug-free.

“Research shows one of the best ways kids learn to avoid drugs and alcohol is when they hear it from older students,” said Shea Halula, Executive Director at Starting Point of Ozaukee. 

One of the ways Isabella connects with the younger students is by teaching them about peer pressure.

“I want these kids to know when they get to high school they don’t have to follow the crowd,” said Isabella. “It’s okay to do their own thing, even it means they may have fewer friends or be eating lunch alone.”

“We know the pressure to do drugs and drink alcohol starts early on which is why United Way felt a strong sense of urgency to support programs that will help steer youth in a more positive direction,” said Bailey Murph, Health Portfolio Manager at United Way. “Our partnership with the Champions Mentoring program not only helps high school students like Isabella avoid drugs and alcohol but it allows them in turn to become those positive influences on younger kids who may be susceptible to these kinds of peer pressures.”

“We aren’t going to stop any of these drug issues in our community if we aren’t doing prevention,” said Halula. “Luckily continued support from United Way allows us to train students like Isabella to be those positive role models in our community who can help us continue to combat this rapidly growing epidemic.”

“I think a lot of kids I speak with don’t realize that there is more to your character than drugs,” she said. “I want to teach them how to recognize the beauty in the world outside of drugs and alcohol,” said Isabella.  

That love for the environment has also inspired the now 16-year old to start her own student group called Onward. “It’s a group started with a friend that centers on using the environment as a way to promote a healthy drug-free and empowered lifestyle,” said Isabella.

In 2014-15, 87% of participants in a United Way youth development program stated that they knew how to have fun without using alcohol or drugs and they knew how to spend time with friends who did not use alcohol or drugs.

Isabella is grateful to the Champions Mentoring Program and United Way for helping inspire her and allow her to pay it forward by helping youth today make positive choices.

“Being a part of this program has been an incredible experience,” said Isabella. “Even if I’m able to help one student become a more confident teen who lives a drug- and alcohol-free life, it will all be worth it.”

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© 2020 United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County is a 501(C)(3) Nonprofit registered in the US under EIN: 39-0806190.